Roundhouse: the cover version

Long filled with volumes of noise, Chalk Farm's monument to rock and rolling stock will soon house rare books and drawings. Jonathan Glancey reports

The first time I went inside the Roundhouse, London's most famous engine shed, was to see The Who at the very end of the 1960s. Railway locomotives had abandoned the place in the 1860s. They were followed by a bump'n'grind of goods wagons, a torrent of gin (the Roundhouse was leased to the distillers W & A Gilbey from 1869 and used as a bonded liquor store until 1963), a thump of rock in the Sixties and an expletive of punk in the Seventies. The building failed to become an arts centre in the Eighties, but - certainly until last week, unless my ears have failed me - was operating as a venue for all-night raves.

The Who were backed by Elton John, who had just released his first album. So I have long known that the Roundhouse is not just a particularly satisfying building to look at - round buildings often are - but a tough one, too. Anyone who remembers just how loud the The Who played will understand; for, if Maria Callas had ever been able to crack a glass chandelier when hitting a high C, The Who would have made an effective firm of demolition contractors. They may have destroyed guitars and a number of eardrums, but the Roundhouse, testimony to confident Victorian engineering and construction, rocked yet never rolled.

Now, after the worst that Sham 69 and The Clash could do to bring down the house, this glorious old building, looking shabbier with each passing year, is about to find a new and dignified role. If the money - pounds 10m of it - adds up by the close of 1998, the Roundhouse will re-open as the British Architectural Library.

This might sound a little stuffy and hushed after the glory years of The Who and The Clash, but the project makes near-perfect sense. Run by the Royal Institute of British Architects (founded in 1834, 12 years before the Roundhouse was built to serve the goods locomotives of the new London & North Western Railway), the British Architectural Library is far more than its name suggests. It contain multitudes - more than 135,000 books (4,000 of them printed before before 1840), 1,400 rounds of old or rare periodicals, 500,000 architectural drawings dating from the 15th century and including such internationally regarded treasures as most of Andrea Palladio's drawings, manuscripts from the 17th century onwards, 400,000 photographs from the birth of the art to the present day, 30,000 slides to hire, plus an assortment of busts and medallions, architectural models and a huge data bank of biographies and technical information.

To date, this sophisticated library - probably the finest of its kind - has been housed in various locations in London and elsewhere. The library proper (books, magazines, afternoon naps) is housed in the RIBA's headquarters at 66 Portland Place, a couple of hundred yards north of Broadcasting House, while the drawings collection is hung, filed and drooled over at 21 Portman Square, an Adam town house near Selfridge's. The lease on the latter runs out in 2002, so the Roundhouse venture is both desirable and necessary.

The architects chosen for the project are Michael Hopkins & Partners, well known for their handsome, if stocky (and just occasionally stodgy) additions to old building complexes; the Mound Stand at Lord's cricket ground, the new opera house at Glyndebourne and the conversion of the former Financial Times building into a Japanese bank in the shadow of St Paul's Cathedral are simply some of their best-known and most-liked designs. The practice has gradually shifted its stance over the past decade from designing flamboyant and memorable Hi-Tech structures such as the Schlumberger research laboratories outside Cambridge to an instantly recognisable style of building that marries sophisticated building technology to a superpowered spin on home-spun English vernacular, epitomised by the new Inland Revenue headquarters in Nottingham.

The Roundhouse is a natural for Hopkins and team. The building will convert readily, with the expert help of Alan Baxter and Associates (engineers), into a library with plenty of archive and exhibition space. The exploded drawing shown here is crystal clear in its presentation of how the new British Architectural Library will look and work. The logic of the Victorian engine shed dictates the plan and everything else stems from that.

The Roundhouse makes a natural store for drawings and other material sensitive to light; its walls are solid and with few apertures. The circular roof, however, which promises to be quite spectacular seen from below, will bring much of the daylight needed into this great brick drum. Because the structure of the building is a given (and cannot be removed: the Roundhouse was listed Grade II* in 1954), the new library will simply slot into place around it as if to the engine-shed born.

The centrepiece of the Roundhouse is a cast-iron coronet circling what was once the turntable and punctuated by 24 openings from where, between 1846 and 1869, railway locomotives once bedded down between duties. The space inside the coronet will be used for exhibitions. These will be open to the public.

The location of the Roundhouse is a good one given the RIBA's wish to be closer to the public. Its present headquarters, although no more than five minutes' walk from Oxford Circus, has always been off the beaten track; Portland Place is a traffic thoroughfare and not a natural pedestrian route through central London. The Roundhouse, in contrast, is located just seconds away from Chalk Farm tube station (one of those liver-coloured Art Nouveau designs by Leslie Green); this is at the heart of crowded Camden Market and in the stomach of dozens of fashionable bars, cafes and restaurants. Location alone will make the new library both far more popular and far more accessible than it has been before.

Whether librarians and curators will welcome this intrusion is another question, but given their noted enthusiasm, they will take it in their stride. Ten years ago, exhibitions of architectural drawings were very much the province of professionals and enthusiasts; today, they command much larger and popular audiences. The Roundhouse, in its latest, post- steam, post-gin, post-punk, Post-Modern role can only stimulate this burgeoning enthusiasm.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Scott Thomas in Electra at the Old Vic
theatreReview: Kristin Scott Thomas is magnificent in a five-star performance of ‘Electra’
Arts and Entertainment
Swiss guards stand in the Sistine Chapel, which is to be lit, and protected, by 7,000 LEDs
artSistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer, Lord Alan Sugar, Karren Brady are returning for The Apprentice series 10

TV
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Angelina Jolie and Winona Ryder star in 'Girl, Interrupted'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Ed Stoppard as Brian Epstein, Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Elliott Cowan as George Martin in 'Cilla'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Thomas Pynchon in 1955, left, and Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix in Paul Thomas Anderson's adaptation of his novel, Inherent Vice

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Nicole Scherzinger will join the cast of Cats

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Fans were left surprised by the death on Sunday night's season 26 premiere

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lady Mary goes hunting with suitor Lord Gillingham

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Dunne, played by Ben Affleck, finds himself at the centre of a media storm when his wife is reported missing and assumed dead

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lindsay Lohan made her West End debut earlier this week in 'Speed-the-Plow'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Artist Nathan Sawaya stands with his sculpture 'Yellow' at the Art of Brick Exhibition

art
Arts and Entertainment
'Strictly Come Dancing' attracted 6.53 million viewers on Friday
tv
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant plays Detective Emmett Carver in the US version on Broadchurch

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor goes undercover at Coal Hill School in 'The Caretaker'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ni , Rock of Rah, Vanuatu: The Ni live on one of the smallest islands of Vanuatu; Nelson flew five hours from Sydney to capture the 'isolation forged by their remoteness'
photographyJimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style
Arts and Entertainment
David Byrne
musicDavid Byrne describes how the notorious First Lady's high life dazzled him out of a career low
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

    Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

    A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
    Time to stop running: At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity

    Time to stop running

    At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity
    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
    An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

    An app for the amorous

    Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

    Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
    She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

    She's having a laugh

    Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

    Let there be light

    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
    Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

    Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

    Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
    Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

    A look to the future

    It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
    The 10 best bedspreads

    The 10 best bedspreads

    Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
    Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

    Arsenal vs Galatasaray

    Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
    Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence